Drones Are Being Used by Researchers to Monitor Marine Life


Jordan Lerma is a 26 year old drone pilot and self taught marine scientist who was born in Hawaii. He worked for a time in San Francisco in the finance sector before moving back home to Hawaii. Upon his return, his love of nature was reignited. He has captured many amazing videos and photos with his drone and has a large following on Instagram. Along with his study of marine science and the use of his drones he has been able to closely study whales and other marine life.

Living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has given Lerma the unique advantage of being able to directly observe whale migration patterns. Although there has been long established methods of photographing animals in the wild, there wasn’t really any set standards for using new technologies like drones in capturing an elusive creature like whales. So Lerma decided to figure out a more adequate means of capturing footage of marine wildlife.

He starts by analyzing oceanic depth charts that are made available by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and compare them to normal whale behavior. The idea is to find the most likely areas that certain types of whales might congregate. After finding a spot, he waits patiently with his drone. While waiting, Jordan will scan the water with binoculars searching for any unexpected behavior. Using binoculars is a way to help in locate the whales as they often come close enough to shore to be seen.

The flight range of a regular drone is just two to three miles and due to FAA rules, pilots have to keep drones within their line of sight at all times.  When Lerma sees a whale, he launches the drone to film the whales. If he spots a single whale he leaves it alone and waits to find a group.  Whales traveling in groups tend to spend more time on the surface of the water when they are traveling alone. In order to stay out of sight and not bother the whales, Lerma does not fly lower than 100 feet. However, even at this height he is still able to capture amazing images with his drone.

Lerma is just one of many scientists and marine biologists that have begun to take advantage of drone technology. Drones have been proven to be more practical for use in monitoring marine life than what was previously available. With the use of drones, marine life can be easily tracked and filmed in high resolution.


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